Barnard College will admit transgender students beginning in the fall, the last of the elite “Seven Sisters” women’s colleges to do so.
The trustees’ decision followed a year of intense discussions, both in public forums and online surveys of alumnae, but came at a moment of intense national interest in transgender issues most vividly symbolized by the very public transition of Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner.
Within the last academic year, all of the best-known women’s colleges have reconsidered their admissions policies, acknowledging a dramatic cultural change in the ways that people define themselves. What was once simple — male or female — has become far more nuanced for many, a complexity that traditional women’s colleges are taking on as they seek to be inclusive yet hold onto their missions.
“As expected, a wide range of passionate and deeply held beliefs were discussed and debated,” Barnard’s president, Debora Spar, and the chair of its board of trustees, Jolyne Caruso-FitzGerald, wrote in a joint letter to the community Thursday. “But on two main points, the responses were compelling and clear.
“There was no question that Barnard must reaffirm its mission as a college for women. And there was little debate that trans women should be eligible for admission to Barnard.”
Barnard will consider applications from anyone who now “consistently identifies as a woman,” but not those who have transitioned to become men, or those whose gender identity is fluid.
They added a helpful FAQ page, to address things such as:
Are trans men eligible for admission?
No. Barnard accepts applications from those who consistently live and identify as women.
Applicants assigned female at birth who now identify as male are not eligible for admission.
Are individuals who identify as non-binary or gender non-conforming eligible for admission?
Barnard accepts applications from those who consistently live and identify as women. To be considered for admission, an applicant must select ‘female’ on the Common Application and her application materials should support this self-identification.
Barnard students who choose to transition to male while at school will still be eligible to earn a degree.”
Smith has adopted a similar policy (“Applicants who were assigned male at birth and identify as women are eligible for admission. Smith does not accept applications from men; those assigned female at birth and who now identify as male will not be eligible for admission.”)
Other schools have adopted slightly different guidelines, such as Wellesley College, which includes this Frequently Asked Question on its admission page:
Are individuals assigned female at birth who identify as non-binary eligible for admission?
Yes. Wellesley accepts applications from those who were assigned female at birth and who feel they belong in our community of women.
And Mount Holyoke spells out who can apply for admission:
Biologically born female; identifies as a woman
Biologically born female; identifies as a man
Biologically born female; identifies as other/they/ze
Biologically born female; does not identify as either woman or man
Biologically born male; identifies as woman
Biologically born male; identifies as other/they/ze and when “other/they” identity includes woman
Biologically born with both male and female anatomy (Intersex); identifies as a woman.
And those who can not:
“Biologically born male; identifies as man.”
Barnard’s policy decision reads, in part,
Since its founding in 1889, Barnard’s mission has been to provide generations of promising, high-achieving young women with an outstanding liberal arts education in a community where women lead. Every aspect of this unique environment is, and always will be, designed and implemented to serve women, and to prepare our graduates to flourish and make a difference in the world. This mission is powerful, and remains vital today, perhaps more so than ever.
Spar and Caruso-FitzGerald’s open letter closes with:
On the occasion of our 125th anniversary, it is fitting that we have come together to recall our history and reexamine our core values. We educated and challenged each other, and Barnard is that much stronger for it.